Bollywood clearly depicts that India is living in various generations!! The representation of women is often used as a selling point of the films. Be it in various song sequences, comedy, dance routines, provocative costumes and also motherly. The very ideology of patriarchy works through the concept of female morality setting territorial limits for the whole idea of feminine identity. With the portrayls of rich women, successful women and pious women in movies, has made her quite unreal to absorb in the culture today. About 30% of women still live in poverty in India. Women that aren’t financially independent, are under the male gaze, devoid of any independent existence do exist in our society. The disparity in income and status exists. The narratives of Hindi cinema have to incorporate them so that we can help bridge this gap.
Let’s highlight this disparity in our society today:
Let’s first examine the higher end of the spectrum. The women that have come close to the glass ceiling. They have crossed the limitations of gender biases and achieved success purely based on talent. Writers such as Mahashweta Devi, Pratibha Roy, and Arundati Roy have established their credentials in the literary world and contributed to the literacy excellence of the nation. It isn’t just in the literary world, women in politics too are creating waves wrt people’s perspectives and ideologies. It is heartening to know that educated women aren’t just encouraged but have become very keen on taking up administration work, doing fantastic work as officers, professionals and artists also. It has been realized that they are quick to understand every aspect of the work and have won applause from the bureaucracy. Vis a Vis, Bollywood, Rani Mukherjee’s portrayl of a fierce cop in Mardaani perfectly highlights the true strength of a woman. Her character is based on a real life cop that solved several child trafficking cases. Named Shivani Shivaji Roy, she didn’t just single-handedly beat out some of the worst criminals but held her own against the evil doers. The perfect mix of strength and respect, Rani made an inspiration come to life on screen. Another inspiring character was that of Gita (played by Gayatri Joshi) from Swades sets an example of an empowered woman that can make her own decisions. This highly educated village girl, supposedly, forgoes lucrative offers in the city and chose to stay in the village to teach kids and reform the village. Her unconditional love for the villagers and her patriotism made her the true pioneer for the development of women.
The opposite end of the spectrum showcases woman still battling the grunges of patriarchy. If there is a similarity in women’s portrayal across various films, there is also a stark contrast where they are subjected to objectification and duress. Cinema has always reflected the ethos and ideology of a society at a point of time. The mediums to accentuate this reflection vary from costumes to music to objects of luxury; but the most crucial medium are the characters. The mind-set, thinking, apprehensions or the prejudices of the characters reflect those of the contemporary society. And then there are people that think that it is a medium that reflects the true mood and the changing scenario or rather reality of the society that produces it. Not only does it reflect, it also shapes and influences a society. Jobs such as that of a clerk, secretary, typist, prostitutes often adhere to the male gaze. Bollywood heroines that were once skeptical about playing characters with grey shades have actually gone onto portraying prostitutes and bar dancers. For the very reason that they want to portray their plight, their limitations and that they might never be able to resurrect themselves in the eyes of the men of the society beyond being a certain “tool” for them. These factors help to compartmentalize women, turn them into a fetish leaving no room for growth and independence.
True, Hindi cinema too has been a major point of reference for Indian culture and society. It has helped contour the cultural and societal makeup of the country by swaying towards the winds of change (people’s perceptions). Women are still depicted or portrayed in the old moulds of feminity. Heroines are westernised, wrt clothes and the inclusion of English language, but this has resulted in turning a woman into a commodity that needs to be made a spectale so that the film can do the numbers. The disparity remains as on one end they have achieved great heights of success while on another end they are still to create an identity. To conclude, women are still represented as prototypes, one dimensional characters as daughters, wives and courtesans. Such stereotypes have no personal traits, no substance in terms of character and temperament; they only exist in relation to men, to heroes on screen. They are there as foils to the male characters so as to highlight their characteristics. Feminity as it is outlined by the premise of patriarchy is more often than not adhered to in Indian films.